Three months before the 2016 presidential election, Donald Trump Jr. met with a small group of people at Trump Tower in New York, including an emissary for two Arab princes and an Israeli social media specialist, who offered assistance to the Trump campaign, The New York Times reported on Saturday, citing several people with knowledge of the encounters.
The Times identified the emissary as George Nader, a Lebanese-American businessman, and reported that he informed Trump Jr., President Donald Trump's son, "that the princes who led Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were eager to help his father win election as president."
The newspaper reported that the social media expert and Israeli, Joel Zamel, talked about how his company could help a political campaign gain an advantage. According to the Times, the company had by then put together "a multimillion-dollar proposal for a social media manipulation effort to help elect Mr. Trump."
It is unclear, however, whether a proposal was ever executed, and details on who commissioned it remain in dispute, the Times reported.
Prominent Trump supporter Erik Prince organized the meeting, the Times reported. Prince is the former CEO of the controversial private security firm Blackwater, which was later renamed and sold and now operates as Academi, and is the brother of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.
Alan Futerfas, a lawyer representing Trump Jr., told CNN in a statement "Prior to the 2016 election, Donald Trump Jr. recalls a meeting with Eric (sic) Prince, George Nader, and another individual who may be Joel Zamel. They pitched Mr. Trump Jr. on a social media platform or marketing strategy. He was not interested and that was the end of it. "
CNN has previously reported that Nader was stopped and questioned by FBI agents at Washington Dulles International Airport in January and is cooperating with special counsel Robert Mueller's probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election and any links between Trump campaign associates and the Russian government, two sources familiar with the matter told CNN.
A lawyer for Nader, Kathryn Ruemmler, told the Times he has "fully cooperated with the special counsel's investigation and will continue to do so." Ruemmler did not immediately return a request for comment from CNN.
CNN has also reported that Nader attended a December 2016 meeting in New York between Emirati officials and members of Trump's inner circle, and another in January 2017 in the Seychelles islands between the Emiratis and Prince. Nader was also in the Seychelles when Prince met with a Russian banker, the sources familiar with the matter told CNN.
A senior official in Saudi Arabia told the Times that the country has never employed Nader or given him authorization to speak on behalf of the crown prince.
A lawyer representing Joel Zamel pushed back on the report in a statement to CNN, saying that Zamel "offered nothing to the Trump campaign, received nothing from the Trump campaign, delivered nothing to the Trump campaign and was not solicited by, or asked to do anything for, the Trump campaign." The lawyer, Marc Mukasey, said that "media reports about Mr. Zamel's engaging in 'social media manipulation' are misguided. Mr. Zamel's companies harvest publicly available information for lawful use."
The White House did not return the Times' request for comment, nor CNN's request for comment, and Prince declined to comment to The Times through a spokesman.
A request for comment from Prince sent to Frontier Services Group, which lists Prince as executive director and chairman, by CNN was not immediately returned.
Mueller is already investigating another Trump Tower meeting involving Trump Jr. and other Trump campaign associates, including the President's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, as well as a Russian lawyer with ties to the Kremlin. That meeting took place in June 2016 after Trump Jr. was told that the crown prosecutor of Russia wanted to give incriminating information about Hillary Clinton to the Trump campaign.
The Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, focused on US sanctions on Russia under the Magnitsky Act, which the US passed to punish Russians over human rights abuses, as well as "the adoption of Russian children by U.S. citizens," according to Trump Jr.'s testimony on the meeting provided to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
"I did not collude with any foreign government and do not know of anyone who did," Trump Jr. said in his testimony.
Prince, a Trump supporter during the campaign, has also come under scrutiny as part of efforts to probe Russia's election meddling. CNN has previously reported that Prince testified to House lawmakers that he met with the head of a Russian investment fund in the Seychelles, but he said the meeting was not an attempt to establish a back channel between the incoming Trump administration and Russia and was not undertaken at the request of Trump transition officials.
The Wall Street Journal reported later Saturday afternoon that Mueller has conducted interviews related to Zamel's work, citing individuals familiar with the matter. The Journal said it had reviewed a subpoena "concerning Mr. Zamel's work, but not issued to Mr. Zamel."
In response to a CNN request for comment on the Journal's report, Mukasey, Zamel's attorney, said in an e-mail, "We have been assured that our client is not a target of any investigation. This is much ado about nothing."
When asked for additional detail on when that assurance was made and by whom, Mukasey said, "Joel was interviewed by Mueller's team months ago and was cooperative and transparent. I won't comment on discussions with Mueller's team, but Joel is not a target."